It's a drizzly December San Francisco night two years later, and I'm riding with Harlan Ellison in the limo that will take him to a signing of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, the CD-ROM game based on his 1967 short story of the same title, one of the ten most reprinted stories in the English language.
The store where the signing will take place has security dudes everywhere, standing in their slickers like a squad of burly, humorless yellowjackets. I'm walking just far enough from Ellison and his wife to seem like I'm not part of the entourage---in truth, the promotional guys from MGM and Tower had no idea I'd be coming along until Ellison casually cocked a thumb over his shoulder and said "We got a limo; want a ride?"--- and as I approach the escalator to the upstairs signing, one of the bigger security dudes steps in front of me.
"Can I help you, sir ?" he asks, politely, icily. (I have long hair, after all, and, well, you can never be too sure.)
"Sure can, fella," I say, or something like it. "I'm with Harlan Ellison, and you can get out of my way. Sir." I grin a huge, cheesy grin which the security guy doesn't dare sock right in the teeth.
The security dude steps aside, thin-lipped...but without further comment.
Upstairs, the Tower Records people have set up a fairly impressive display and
a table, upon which sits a PC running what for lack of a better word I will call
the 'game.' Having railed for years against computer and arcade games as "some
of greatest time-wasters ever devised by the mind of man," Ellison finally
decided to see if he could do what he'd been bad-mouthing: A Calabasis company
called Cyberdreams approached him to do a game based on I Have No Mouth, and I
Must Scream; the result---less a 'game' than an ethical obstacle course for
the soul---confronts such issues as insanity, self-sacrifice, the horrors of
rape, and the Holocaust. Ellison's stated purpose in creating such a
controversial product was "to honk off half the audience and terrify the other
Ellison's chummy, jive-talking, first-strike demeanor have earned him places of
high honor in the worlds of fantasy, literature, and even politics. He has made
'cameo appearances' in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns graphic
novel as well as Steven Spielberg's FreakazoidTV show, and has become the
anti-idol of a loosely-knit national group of detractors calling itself the
Enemies (or Victims) of Ellison. An inveterate activist (who marched wtih
Martin Luther King, worked with Ceasar Chavez, got his ass kicked in race riots
and who still has "warrants in half a dozen Southern states as a nigger-loving
agitator"), Ellison's name has figured prominently in Ronald Reagan's Subversive
Enemies List, and drew flack from the Nixon administration, which Ellison
repeatedly bashed in his L.A. Free Press column of TV and social
criticism, The Glass Teat . Ellison is now 60 years old, but the
gunslinger's swagger of the angry young journalist (whose second Glass Teat
book was squelched by an annoyed Spiro Agnew) is still visible and extremely audible.